MLB Rookie News: Is Javy Guerra the Los Angeles Dodgers' Next Elite Closer?

Timothy Howell@@tmurrayhowellCorrespondent IIAugust 11, 2011

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 05:  Relief pitcher Javy Guerra #54 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates with catcher Rod Barajas #28 after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on August 5, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Dodgers defeated the Diamondbacks 7-4. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers currently find themselves 12 games out of first place with a little over six weeks left in the 2011 Major League Baseball season.  However, the future for the Dodgers is a bright one.  

Dodgers fans of course have plenty of things to be excited about for this season. They have Matt Kemp (.320 26 HRs, 86 RBI) absolutely tearing things up for them in the outfield, and arguably the best young left-handed pitcher in the big leagues in Clayton Kershaw (13-5, 2.79 ERA and 184 Ks)—a no-doubt candidate for the 2011 NL Cy Young Award.

Sneaking in under the radar is a young Texan, rookie Javy Guerra, who has stepped in to the closer's role seemingly unnoticed, and has dominated.

The Dodgers’ closer to begin 2011, Jonathan Broxton, had hit a troublesome tailspin in 2010, and wound up on the disabled list earlier in the season.  This paved the way for Javy Guerra to step in to the role of closer. 

Guerra is a perfect 10-10 in save opportunities with a sparkling 1.63 ERA and 23 strikeouts against just eight bases on balls, and only three walks issued in his last 10 appearances. In other words, Guerra has been simply outstanding.

Javy Guerra has been so good in fact, that it's hard to believe that the 25-year-old needed seven years to fulfill his quest to become a Major League baseball player. 

The right-handed power pitcher from Denton, TX has seen his fair share of bumps and bruises on his way to "The Show."

Throughout all of the injuries, inconsistencies, demotions and promotions, one day in May made it all worthwhile: On Wednesday, May 18, 2011, Javy Guerra fulfilled his dream and made it to "The Show."

Everything that’s happened since then, has been icing on the cake for the former Denton Ryan High School 4A All-State selection.

After being persuaded out of an Arizona University baseball scholarship by a $275,000 bonus from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Guerra’s ascension to the Dodgers' closer has taken anything but a prototypical journey.

Like so many former high school draft picks, Guerra started out in professional baseball as a starting pitcher.  During his first professional season, in 2004 for the short-season Gulf Coast League Dodgers, Guerra appeared in 11 games, starting nine of those contests. 

The 18-year-old went 4-1 with 36 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA.  Guerra would start the 2005 season for Class A Columbus of the South Atlantic League (SAL).  From that point on, a series of promotions and demotions, with Tommy John surgery sprinkled in, would tarnish Guerra’s elite-prospect status.

Guerra had Tommy John surgery in 2005. He made a full recovery and never missed an entire season. However, some reworked mechanics and perhaps lingering issues from the surgery caused Guerra to become a little erratic with his control.

In 2008, pitching for High-A Inland Empire, Guerra allowed 80 walks in just 117.2 innings pitched. Despite his alarming 6.27 ERA, Guerra still possessed swing-and-miss stuff, as he struck out 121 that same season.  However, this would be Guerra’s last tour of duty as a starting pitcher.

Coming from the bullpen ended up being a move that might have saved his career—regardless, it certainly revived it.  In his first year as a reliever—once again for Inland Empire—Guerra watched his ERA plummet over two runs to 4.07. His strikeout-per-innings-pitched ratio also improved greatly as he fanned 63 in 66.1 innings pitched.

Walks remained an issue as he continued to improve his mechanics and get used to his new delivery.  He issued 44 walks in 2008.

2009 saw him appear in two leagues, topping out at Double-A Chattanooga.  This was a renaissance year for Guerra, as he collected 16 saves with a 2.61 ERA—and his strikeout per inning rate was marvelous: Guerra averaged just south of 11 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. 

Guerra was now seen as not just a power-arm, but as the closer of the future for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The 2011 season started off with Guerra once again in Chattanooga, and once again dominating.  At the time of his promotion—Guerra had never pitched above AA—he had a sparkling 1.06 ERA and 15 strikeouts to just five walks.

Guerra is one of two former Billy Ryan High School baseball players currently in the Major Leagues. Austin Jackson, last year’s runner up in the ROY voting and center fielder for the Detroit Tigers, beat Guerra to the bigs by one year.

Timothy Howell's other MLB and Texas Rangers articles can be accessed by clicking this link.  You can also follow him on Facebook or Twitter—he'll follow back, but not in a creepy way.